Women’s History Month: Lillian and the Little Women of India

mfd-e-purple-3Congress designated March as National Women’s History Month in 1987, but of course, women have long been making history. Consider trailblazers, such as Belva Lockwood, the first female admitted to the U.S. bar in 1873. Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, and Hillary Clinton have each served as U.S. Secretary of State, a position third in presidential succession. Polish-Frenchwoman Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, winning twice for different fields. Benazir Bhutto became the first elected female leader of a Muslim country (Pakistan).

Women of the Christian faith also bound across the centuries’ pages. Catherine Booth, for example, co-founded the Salvation Army. Martha Drummer and Anna Hall were African-American missionaries to Angola and Liberia, respectively. Dr. Sandra Glahn mentions several more. Many have heard of Amy Carmichael’s work in India or Elizabeth Elliot’s sacrifice in Ecuador. Fewer may have heard of Lillian Doerksen.

300px-lillian_doerksenLillian Ruth Doerksen (1921-2008) left her native Canada, never married (despite two offers), learned Marathi, and lived nearly 50 years in India. She taught in Pune at the Pandita Ramabai Mukti Mission orphanage (named after the Brahmin woman, Pandita Ramabai, who converted to Christianity and founded the home). Lillian served as a teacher and principal, and later lobbied the government to extend their services to include high school. Lillian affectionately came to be called Prakash Moushi (Auntie of Light).

She also raised 34 orphan girls, many for whom she arranged marriages and refused to pay the dowry, considering it unbiblical. One of these girls later birthed two deaf children. Burdened by the almost one million deaf children in that state and understanding the vulnerable status of girls born to poor families, Lillian then founded the Maharasthra Fellowship for Deaf, which still operates today under the direction of one of Lillian’s daughters, Tara, and her husband, Arvind Meshramkar. Four affiliated homes continue to provide education, life skills, and housing to hundreds of deaf children, even lauded in the news for the success of their students sitting for the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) exam.

Being born female in India, frankly, can be dangerous. Statistics show that India is one of the countries with the highest rates of female infanticide, despite the Pre-conception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques 1994 Act outlawing sex-selection and disclosure of the sex in utero. The long-standing Asian preference for male children, amplified by the substantial sum (dowry) required for a bride’s family to offer the groom’s family in India, is still very much embedded within culture. Prime Minister Modi addressed this publicly as recently as a few months ago, having issued the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (Save the Daughter, Educate the Daughter) campaign in July 2015. Young girls, especially born into poverty, are at particular risk. Add to that a condition of deafness, and we begin to see the miraculous work Lillian did for so many.

msdeaf-eIn 2013, I met some of the young deaf girls who live in light of Lillian’s legacy. I happened to be doing doctoral research in India that spring, and one of my visits was to a church meeting in Aurangabad. The pastor led the main service in one part of the room, and his wife led a group of girls in a lesson at the other end. As she taught, the interpreter signed. She later explained to me, “The girls live at the [Maharasthra Fellowship for Deaf] home during the week, and some families collect their daughters at least for the weekend. These girls were not collected. So, for some, the school is their 24-7 home. There aren’t as many activities over the weekend for the ones left behind, so they like coming to our church on Sunday mornings.”

I caught a lot of stares, of course, given that these girls don’t receive many visitors, if any, from day to day, much less pale-skinned ones. Their group leader signed why I was there, and we wistfully enjoyed a few games. My moments with them were brief, but Lillian’s story struck a sharp cord in my heart.

My own grandmother, Naomi May, was born in 1919, and while Lillian was serving India’s children, she was teaching children of the rural poor in the eastern U.S. For almost 25 years, she started one of the first afternoon school programs with neighborhood Bible clubs, teaching 679 children in one year alone. Known as the “Sunday school lady,” she would drive her Volkswagen, on which was printed “Gospel Bug,” or her jalopy station wagon, labeled the “Gospel Wagon,” and gather children for songs, games, and lessons. Of all the things I remember most about my grandmother, she definitely loved young kids—and cats. These two women, Lillian Ruth and Naomi Ruth, call us to look beyond our circumstances to follow Christ. They lived well. They loved well. And through these unassuming women, others were given life.

Read my full article at The RedBud Post.

Peace Born

snow-1088470_960_720Micah 5:4-5a (NIV)

4 And He will arise and shepherd His flock . . .

. . . And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.

5a And He will be our peace.

Childhood. Some have precious memories of their childhood. Others hold scars. All of us can recall wounded moments as little children, as generations enter this world birthed from brokenness to brokenness until . . .

Peace was born.

Micah’s prophecy testifies to God’s plan set before the ages. God’s promise of a coming Messiah would change the world’s course. God’s divine answer to our broken childhood came wrapped in a tender bundle, the event now known as Christmas, introducing Peace on Earth.

Peace is neither a philosophy nor a political system. Peace is a Person. Peace had flesh and a face. God answered the cruelty of evil in the birth of Peace, baby Jesus. Peace was born to assuage the anguish of our hearts and heal all of creation. In this scarred world, we hold the promise that the Peace Child stands to shepherd his people. This Shepherd tends, protects, and leads his flock. In difficulty, in distress, the followers of the Shepherd will experience security and peace, as the rest of verse 5 indicates.

But until that day, when Peace on Earth culminates, what then? Christ’s birth inaugurated a legacy of peace. Each new generation of those born into Christ become bearers of peace. Birthed into brokenness, we are reborn to be peace-bearers. We reflect this Peace in flesh to the world. As we exchange gifts at Christmas, let us consider how we are passing peace to each other. As the light of Peace shines in our hearts, are we sharing his nature with others, as tenderly and vulnerably as a baby?

For this Christmas and the coming year, bear Peace to the world. “For then, his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.”

Cultural Lies

indexLies have many characteristics. They can be attractive. Threatening. Tempting. Subtle. Alluring. Almost true. Specious. I compiled a short list of common lies I have heard growing up in the United States. This list is by no means comprehensive. I am interested in what those from other countries would say their cultural lies are. What lies have you believed? What lies are you believing? Why?

Lie: You can have everything. Truth: Just like the song says, “You can’t always get what you want” in life. Sometimes you’ll get things that you definitely do not want.

Lie: You are worthless. Truth: Rubbish! You are priceless.

Lie: You are perfect just the way you are. Truth: Almost. You are beautiful and broken and need to be made new.

Lie: Love must be earned. Truth: God loves you so much that he did everything to save you.

Lie: You can be anything you want to be. Truth: You can be some things you want to be. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

Lie: Forgiving means forgetting. Truth: Forgiving is not enabling.

Lie: You are weak if you cry. Truth: God wept (John 11:35). So there must be more to it; something about crying is good.

Lie: No one will find out. Truth: Uhmmm. One of the starkest verses in the Bible to me is: “For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14). See also Matthew 12:36 and 1 Corinthians 3:13.

Lie: God won’t give you more than you can handle. Truth: False. God wants you to recognize that you can’t handle it. God won’t give you more than God can handle.

Lie: I will be happy once I am married. Truth: Being single or married does not make you more or less of a valuable person. Even if you desire something else, enjoy what you have now.

Lie: Hide your shame and guilt. Truth: Nope, wrong again. Bring your dark secrets into the Light to be pierced and healed by Love. You can be forgiven (1 John 1:9).

Lie: God wants me to be happy. Truth: Ultimately, I guess, but not by what that word means when most people use it nowadays. God wants us to be good.

Lie: I am alone. Truth: You are never, not once, alone on this earth (Psalm 139:8; Proverbs 18:24).

Slave Country

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Wallace Turnage (1846-1916) Courtesy of the William E. Finch, Jr., Archives, Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich, CT
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John Washington (1838-1918) Courtesy of the Alice Jackson Stuart Family Trust

 

Once I became so impatient seeing the free country in view and I still in the slave country . . .”       – Wallace Turnage (p.253)

Wallace Turnage may not be a household name in the history books, but he has schooled me. David Blight, a historian who verified two slave narratives in his book, A Slave No More, describes Wallace Turnage’s and John Washington’s individual journeys from slavery to freedom. Despite the brief length of each report, Blight weaves what is known of their story with the surrounding history of the time.

“Once I became so impatient seeing the free country in view and I still in the slave country.” Turnage’s words struck me. Having traveled to almost all of the states as a white woman in the 21st century, the thought of seeing certain land as prohibited had never occurred to me. I have never looked out across a field and known it as forbidden.

Despite their slave-defined boundaries of that day, these men describe their tenuous and tenacious escapes. Strikingly, both Mr. Turnage and Mr. Washington recall a personal faith experience in their journals. Washington writes of his conversion to Christianity:

“It was during this revival that I was Sincerely trubbled about the Salvation of my Soul. and about the 25th of May I was converted and found the Saviour precious to my soul, and heavenly joyes manefested, and began to be felt at the time, are still like burning coals; fanned by the breeze, (after a lapse of nearly 17 years) and Is to this day the most precicous assurance of my life, God grant the more faith and a better understanding, for these things let rocks and hills their lasting silance breake; And all harmonous human Tongues their Saviours praises Speak. I was Baptized in the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg, Va. by Rev. Wm F. Broaddus June 13th 1856. And many happy moments have I spent with the Church in its joys and sorrows. at that place. I was permitted to attend divine service on Sundays but at nights I was not allowed to go out but little—During my close imprisonment (I do not know what else to call it) The “Word of God,” was to me a source of unfailing pleasure. I became a close reader of the Bibl And Wrote many comments on different chapters which has since been lost.” (p. 183, presented as originally written)

William Turnage shares:

“My Dear reader, I have finished my book of adventures and struggles for freedom hoping you have approved of it. Don’t take it for a novel, nor a fable, but a reality of facts. Oh that I may when done with this toilsome world, Even with three times the difficulties and persecutions that I met with in obtaining my temporal freedom, by God’s assistance reach that Blistful abode, and triumph over the enemies of my soul at last. That will be a day of joy to me, which no tongue can express, for I will then be free indeed. Moreover my book is to show the goodness of God to me for his son’s sake. when I prayed to him for my soul’s freedom, he for Christ’s sake freed my soul from the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity and he will not deliver me only but every one that believeth on him, and every one that trusteth in him.” (p. 258, presented as originally written, emphases added)

Before they were set free, they were set free.

I was stunned in particular by the phrase “slave country” as I mentioned. Some of us in the U.S. have not fathomed the experience of being bounded by race or class. All of us encounter social boundaries (think mean girls in the junior high cafeteria or being unable to walk into the president’s office at will), yet our bodies and psyches have never suffered what slaves have endured. A danger persists, however, in then assuming that we are free. Life—for those in positions of power or members of a majority group—lulls us into believing we are not constrained. Without minimizing the excruciating and indescribable nightmares of physical slavery ever, these men’s stories of slavery and spiritual discovery echo this truth: most of us are also enslaved. By what? I look out across this precious land, and I see enslavement by fear, addiction, bitterness, money, poverty, power. In a metaphysical sense, are some of us still in slave country?

William Turnage and John M. Washington, seemingly obscure slaves from the antebellum South, have much to teach us.

Complicity: The Dark Side of Christian Mission

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Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Christopher Sneller, a fellow PhD student during my time at King’s College London, has written a piece I wish to highlight. He summarizes how the tea and opium trade between China and Great Britain and the resulting humiliating Opium Wars (1839-60) damaged the “national Chinese psyche” and Western relations, including missionaries. A few missionaries even served as translators on the opium clippers and for the very government treaties that crippled China but opened wide the access into the country for their simultaneous pursuit of sharing the Christian gospel. Other missionaries, however, exposed and condemned opium trafficking and Britain’s involvement.

History provides us myriad examples of those laboring in the name of Christ doing much good while overlooking other wrongs. I think of the Puritans whom Kevin Olusola (K.O.) of Propaganda among others have called out. I think of A.W. Tozer who penned several Christian classics as his family suffered; Trevin Wax recaps such duplicity here. I think of Martin Luther King Jr.’s amazing leadership and yet presumably his failed leadership in his own marriage. Before we are tempted to lose hope, I can also recount countless others who, while human, have shone brightly. I think of Sir Thomas More. I think of Sojourner Truth, William Wilberforce, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Mother Teresa, Elizabeth Elliot, and the scores of those poor or mistreated who, despite injury and squalor, were faithful to God profoundly. I suggest that the collusion of missionaries, church leaders, or whomever else should not drive us to despair or apathy; rather, we should be driven to sobriety. Should we not take careful inventory of our own lives? Secondly, they provide us an opportunity to honestly recount history—the dynamic, complicated, mired, offensive, hopeful picture that it is. We need to own our history, the parts played, and the consequent promotion or disadvantage granted to certain groups because of it.

A student asked me over lunch one day, “How did the missionaries get it so wrong?” She pointed to slavery, the commodification of evangelism with imperialism, etc. I responded, “No one gets history right all or even most of the time. Each of us is born with cultural constraints, some of which we don’t recognize, much less question. In one sense, they did the best they could with what they had. We may trust that their hearts desired to honor God, but they were still constrained in doing that well. This is not to excuse their behavior by any means, but can we judge them based on our hindsight? The percolation of cultural change is slow. Even as blind spots blotted the missionaries’ methods and attitudes, they in their brokenness were still used to forge great change. I think of William Carey, Amy Carmichael, Francis Xavier, and Alexander Duff, all of whom brought sweeping change to the marginalized in India, for example, through linguistics, literacy, health care, and education. Missionary failures do us a sad service in this: they remind us how easy it is to get it wrong and call us to be extremely critical in evaluating ourselves.”

Unfortunately, hindsight does not ensure foresight, which leads me to ask myself:

In what have I been complicit?

“A particular evil not only inhabits us so that we do what we hate (Romans 7:15), it has colonized us to such a thoroughgoing extent that there seems to be no moral space left within the self in which it could occur to us to hate what we want because it is evil.” – Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, p. 89-90.

An Interview with the Author of Life

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Something dark happened. Evil lurked among the shadows until it marred God’s good creation. We as Christians believe this. That’s why God made it right through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. We believe Jesus as God allowed himself to be killed and raised again to conquer evil and death for us, in us. So . . . now what?

My husband recently described three kinds of life that Christians seem to choose after being “saved”: a non-life, ghost-life, or a full life. The non-life is not really living, more like gripping onto the counter-top waiting for Jesus “just to come back already.” The ghost-life is focusing mostly on our spiritual lives as if all that is physical is bad, or at best, unnecessary. Body and spirit, however, were both created by God and are good. Jesus clearly makes the case in John that he came to bring us life—full and fresh, invigorating and overflowing (John 10:10). Christians, of all people, should be bursting with a full life! Watch this inspiring 3 min clip.

Enjoy life. Solomon wisely instructed God’s people in Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 and 9:7.

3:12“I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. 13That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God.”
9:7 “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do.”

Consider what Bear Grylls shares, “Sometimes it’s hard for us to believe, really believe, that God cares and wants good things for us and doesn’t just want us to go off and give everything up and become missionaries in Burundi,” Grylls says. “And some people are just scared, and they go, ‘Oh, God just wants me to be religious,’ but actually He just loves us. He just wants us to be with Him.”

After all, “God loves a good time” as N.D. Wilson reminds us. See more on that here. The Author of Life wants you to enjoy the world he has made. Live well! Enjoy the life God has given you now.

Prayer: Be Found Out

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A Reflection on my Vicar’s Sermon

Desperation. It’s a terrible feeling. Nobody wants it. All of us experience it. About what do you feel desperate? Desperation—that dread that makes you perspire, shudder, cower, hide. In this scenario, who wouldn’t want a lifeline to pull you out, like the three allowed on Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

My husband spoke about the lifeline we have to God, that open line of communication with God by his Spirit: prayer. Taking us to Genesis 3, a curious choice of text for a reflection on prayer but none the less thought-provoking, Kevin rehearses the Adamic garden scene that weary day. The serpent, or Satan (Genesis 3:1; Isaiah 27:1, Revelation 20:2), does two things that lead to Eve’s newfound fatality: 1) the hook and 2) the half-truth. First, he hooks her in that first verse of Genesis 3. Like a fish drawn to fake bait, Satan lures us. If we aren’t wide-eyed, we quickly become dinner. Secondly, Satan feeds our first mother a half-truth, and she swallows it—hook, line, and sinker. A threat, real or perceived, seems enough to overwhelm them, and us.

Now, how does this fateful story relate to prayer? Well, you’ll need to listen to the whole of his sermon. This tidbit would not do his duly prepared and spiritual work any justice. The main point is that Genesis 3 demonstrates the mystery of the Gospel and what so often happens in prayer. We run from God. We hide. Who is nowhere to be found in Genesis 3:9-10? Not God. Why? We don’t want to talk with God because we don’t want to face him. And who is seeking whom? God goes out of his way to find us. God chases us. The tragedy is that we don’t run from fear; we run from God!

Prayer is an opportunity to meet God. He has run after you your whole life. Be still this week (Psalm 46:10). Slow down. Listen. Pray. Receive. Think of prayer as God wrapping his security blanket of love around you (Song of Solomon 2:4). Through Christ, God wraps us up warmly in his love. It is safe here. So why are we hiding? God knows everything about us already and still loves us. Now that’s amazing grace!

What we want is a lifeline to be pulled from our troubles, but we are not at the other end of the line in a conversation (prayer) with God. Be found by God this week. Pray.